Film review: Happiness – Kara Wai, Carlos Chan bond in one of best Hong Kong films of 2016

No angel, a young man’s life changes when he takes an elderly stranger’s spare room and soon finds himself caring for her as she develops dementia. What follows is a poignant and heart-warming story

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 07 September, 2016, 12:19pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 08 September, 2016, 3:30pm

4 stars

Kara Wai Ying-hung has a fighting chance to add to her two best-actress wins at the Hong Kong Film Awards with this exquisite dramedy, infused with heart and humour. Playing like a grungier version of Ann Hui On-wah’s A Simple Life, about a man who performs filial duties to his elderly housekeeper, Happiness derives much joy and sorrow from the unlikely bond between a homeless youth and the solitary landlady who takes him in.

After his Chinese mother dies, the temperamental Yuk (Carlos Chan Ka-lok) moves back to Hong Kong to look for the father who abandoned them both years ago. The young man is no angel himself – he loses his cooking job in a tantrum, and is not above stealing money from the girl he sleeps with (and cruelly kicks out) – but it all changes when he begins to live under one roof with Aunt Fanny (Wai), a random stranger with a room to spare.

What follows is a heart-warming drama about learning our responsibilities to other people. As Yuk begins to work in a community centre, which provides him with a nominal love interest (Cya Liu Yase) and a chauvinist buddy (Louis Cheung Kai-chung) to bounce off, the character’s transformation from a selfish, heartless p***k to the primary carer of Aunt Fanny – soon diagnosed with dementia – feels at once authentic and very poignant.

An experienced scriptwriter who counts Crazy N’ the City (2005) and My Name Is Fame (2006) among his best screenplays, Andy Lo Yiu-fai stumbled with his first directing gig in 2013 – the segment “Can’t Stop the Killing” in the omnibus feature Hardcore Comedy – but has apparently saved his best for this full-length feature debut. Bittersweet without resorting to an easy tear, Happiness is easily one of 2016’s best Hong Kong films.

Happiness opens on September 8

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